Religious groups fight early exit bill

SARAH YOUNG
Last updated 13:00 27/03/2012

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Euthanasia is ethically wrong, and individuals could be placed under more pressure from family members to choose an "early exit" if a new bill goes ahead, say the Salvation Army and the InterChurch Bioethics Council.

Both groups have come out against a proposed "end of life choice" member's bill being drafted by Nelson-based Labour list MP Maryan Street.

The bill would make it legal for those diagnosed as terminally ill, and fully in control of their mental faculties, to choose to die, and for assisting clinicians or family members to be protected from liability.

Chairman of the Salvation Army's Moral and Social Issues Council Major Garth Stevenson said euthanasia and and assisted suicide were "morally wrong", and removing legal liability from health professionals and family could place individuals under undue pressure.

"By offering some the choice to end their life, even with the best of intentions, we may also be removing a choice from others who may consequently feel pressured to choose an `early exit'."

Mr Stevenson said choices could be influenced by the convenience of bringing together family members with busy schedules and limited financial means for a final farewell, the expense of continuing medical care or palliative treatment, or by the desire to more quickly wind up an estate.

Legalising voluntary euthanasia, even in limited form, would see New Zealand take steps towards non-voluntary euthanasia for those of limited mental capacity, he said.

"Society's task is not to eliminate those who suffer, but to find better ways of dealing with their suffering."

The InterChurch Bioethics Council, representing Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, has also said it would not support the legislation.

Council member Reverend Graham O'Brien said palliative care offered a "dignified, pain-free death", and there was a significant ethical difference between actively, or assisting in, killing another person, and withdrawing treatment so the person died as a result of their illness.

Dr O'Brien said health care professionals were trained and trusted to promote health and wellbeing.

"They are trusted not to cause death."

The council was concerned about what types of societal pressures, such as escalating costs of health care, were also driving this debate, he said.

There was also the risk voluntary euthanasia would quickly become non-voluntary euthanasia for conditions other than terminal illness, he said.

Ms Street said the bill should be ready to go into the ballot by the end of April.

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She said she respected the fact others held different views but she had found it surprising that at the Nelson EXIT international meetings she had attended, there were people of faith there. "They were predominantly, but not exclusively, Christian, but there were also people of no faith at all present.

"The Salvation Army is giving its point of view, but it will be aware it does not represent all Christian opinion. It is entirely possible that people of the same faith and religious tradition hold different views."

There was nothing in the proposed bill that was driven by, or would reflect, cost considerations, and it would protect people against exploitation from family members or insurance companies, she said.

There would always be a need and place for quality palliative care and the bill would make no difference to that.

"It will simply give individuals the chance to choose their end moment in the manner they wish."

Nelson general practitioner spokesman Graham Loveridge said the New Zealand Medical Association and Medical Council positions were similar to the council's attitude to palliative care.

Most doctors focused on the holistic care of the patient, but this also included a "professional appraisal of the situation and likely outcomes".

"It is rare in New Zealand for doctors to intervene to merely prolong life when death is the obvious outcome."

Dr Loveridge said the doctor's focus was more likely to be on minimising distressing symptoms while allowing the person to communicate with their family and friends and appreciate their last days.

"Strangely enough, many dying people express their sense of acceptance and find a sense of peace during their final days, and good clinical care can enhance that."

- The Nelson Mail

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